Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Final Four and Opinion and College Sports and Sports Business

BENNER: Looking forward to 37 basketball games in 35 days

November 21, 2009

Basketball’s road to Indianapolis barely has begun.

I’m already looking forward to how it will end.

Indy’s month of March, 2010, with a little leakage into April, again will produce a basketball madness few cities can duplicate.

During a 35-day span (March 3 to April 5), Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium will host at least 37 high school, college and Indiana Pacers games. That includes the Big Ten Women’s Tournament (March 3-6), the Big Ten Men’s Tournament (March 11-14), the IHSAA Boys State Finals (March 27), the NCAA Men’s Final Four (April 3-5) and nine Pacers home games.

If my math and attendance estimates are correct, that could result in 300,000 paid admissions and direct spending into central Indiana approaching $100 million. The regional and national exposure garnered for the city will be priceless.

In 2006, the Final Four in Indy generated an estimated $40 million in visitor spending, but that was with a capacity of slightly more than 40,000 in the RCA Dome. With the Final Four moving into Lucas Oil Stadium, capacity could top 70,000.

An interesting side note to the Final Four weekend is that, instead of going on a road trip and letting the collegians take over, the Pacers have scheduled home games on the Friday night (against Miami) before the Saturday national semifinals, and on the Sunday night (versus Houston) before Monday’s national championship game. Toss in the college all-star game on Friday at Lucas Oil stadium (free and open to the public following the open practices of the Final Four teams, which also are free), and Indy will host six games in four days.

And if you recall that the Final Four in 2006 grew into a larger realm with the Big Dance (capped by the John Mellencamp concert on Monument Circle) and other activities, just wait. The NCAA—under the direction of Indianapolis native Greg Shaheen—has taken the weekend to yet another level, with an expanded array of concerts and events and an improved and expanded Hoops City (the interactive fanfest at the Indiana Convention Center will have a new name).

But remember, the Final Four will only be the end of the basketball celebration (excluding the Pacers’ hoped-for playoff run).

On Dec. 18, a consortium of promoters, including the IHSAA, the Pacers and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, will announce the details of the “100 Years in 100 Days” festivities culminating in the 100th Boys State Basketball Finals at Conseco Fieldhouse. During those 100 days, a traveling exhibit will crisscross the state, delivering memorabilia and memorable moments to high schools in cities, towns and rural areas.

It will be an apt reminder of our basketball heritage that goes all the way back to Crawfordsville, the birthplace of Indiana basketball and home of the first state high school champion. With a changing culture, an increase in the popularity of football and girls sports, and the advent of multiclass basketball, the appreciation of the legacy of Indiana boys (no offense, ladies) high school basketball and its place in our Hoosier fabric has waned.

This 100th celebration, then, comes at a good time to remind folks that, for years, the toughest ticket in the state was the one that got you into the State Finals.

Then, of course, there will be the Big Ten Tournaments, in the third year of their five-year commitment to Indianapolis. It’s likely the Big Ten will begin the process of bidding for the tournaments from 2013 forward, and I can guarantee Chicago will do everything it can to bring the men’s tournament back to the United Center.

Indianapolis has delivered everything the Big Ten said it wanted—and then some—from the tournaments in terms of a conference celebration. But the men’s crowds, held down by the economy last year and the lack of a strong Indiana University program, have not been to the level the Big Ten desires. Even Purdue University’s run to the men’s title a year ago did not generate an attendance spike.

I’d like to think the festive, convivial, fan-friendly atmosphere Indy creates for the Big Ten tournaments (which simply can not be duplicated in Chicago) would hold sway. But that would be a naïve thought in a bottom-line world.

At any rate, enjoy the start of this season. We don’t know how it will end, but we do know where.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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